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Senior Life: Beating the Winter Blues

Are you feeling the "winter blues"?

There is a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that is related to the change of seasons and is more than the "winter blues". SAD has been connected with an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that is triggered by less sunlight in the winter. With the change of seasons, your body's internal clock may change. Symptoms of SAD typically begin in the fall and continue through the winter because there is less sunlight. Symptoms can continue into spring or summer, although they usually improve at the start of spring.

Symptoms of SAD include: Feeling depressed most days, decreased energy, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, loss of interest in activities, and feeling hopeless or worthless. Additional symptoms that are often seen with winter-onset SAD can include: Low energy, drowsiness, increased weight, changes in appetite, and oversleeping.

It is normal for everyone to have some days that are worse than others. However, if this happens for multiple days in a row or you are no longer interested in activities you usually enjoy, it is recommended to see your doctor. This is even more important if your appetite and sleep patterns have changed, you have used alcohol as a source of relaxation or comfort, or you feel hopeless or suicidal. It is important to know that you don't need to suffer as there are treatment options available for SAD. This may include medications, counseling, and light therapy (phototherapy).

Patients who suffer from anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, etc should know that their health care professionals do not want them to feel alone. They do not want any sort of social stigma to keep their patients from seeking helpful and necessary treatments. These conditions are very common, whether they are short lived due to a certain life event or something you experience for a longer term. Treatments are safe, widely used, and affordable. Health care providers hope that you will talk to them about how you feel. It also is important to know that there are several different prescription medications available for these conditions. While there are some potential side effects with each option, it is important to know that we can try another medication until the "right fit" is found. Another important point to keep in mind is that medications for mood and anxiety take a little bit of time to work. You want to be sure you give it a fair trial before moving onto another medication, as long as you are able to tolerate it.

Along with medications, there are some other options such as light or phototherapy. Light boxes are used for this therapy and are meant to imitate outdoor light. There are different products available and your doctor may recommend a particular product, although a prescription is not necessary for purchase. It is recommended to be managed by a healthcare professional before using light box therapy as there are certain conditions and medications that may increase your sensitivity to sunlight. It is also important to use the box correctly to avoid any damage to your eyes or skin.

The light from light boxes is assumed to cause chemical changes in the brain that improve mood and other symptoms of SAD. Phototherapy likely will not cure SAD or other forms of depression, however, it may make symptoms more tolerable and you may notice an increase in energy. In general, it is recommended to use these lights in the morning shortly after waking for around 20 to 30 minutes. Symptoms may start to improve in as little as a few days, but it can take two or more weeks for some patients. Light boxes should release the smallest amount of UV light as possible and should be kept 16 to 24 inches from your face. Patients using light therapy should not look directly at the light, but should have their eyes open. Because there are different products available, it is important to follow any specific instructions that are included with your product.

Please don't hesitate to reach out to your Lewis pharmacist to discuss different treatment options, to review potential side effects or concerns with your current medications, or for any questions in general. They are always happy to help steer you in the right direction and to remind you that you are NOT alone!

American Psychiatric Association. "Seasonal affective disorder." Oct 2020. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. "Light therapy." 08 Feb 2017. Retrieved from­procedures/light-therapy/about/pac-20384604.
Mayo Clinic. "Seasonal affective disorder." 25 Oct 2017. Retrieved from
https ://www. /diagnosis­treatment/drc-20364722. 

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